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Why is it OK to say "I'm rubbish at maths" when...

(115 Posts)
Clary Wed 01-Jul-09 22:50:22

you would never freely admit to being rubbish at English?

A colleague said this to me today and manyothers have said it before when they ask me to explain how to work out percentages or whatever.

Why is it a badge of pride to say this? I work in an office where people deal with the written word and facts and figures all day. If they couldn't read they would really struggle - but apparently it's OK not to be able to do maths.

If they are really that bad, why don't they do an evening class?

MaureenMLove Wed 01-Jul-09 23:16:49

I think it's because with English, you can muddle through, but with Maths, if you don't get it, you don't get it. With Maths there is only one answer, but with English there are many.

That's my thoughts, anyway! grin

Clary Wed 01-Jul-09 23:21:15

But these are intelligent people doing a job which relies heavily on them being able to spell, construct a sentence, read and do maths.

If they can't do the first 3 they would never dare admit it I don't think.

LynetteScavo Wed 01-Jul-09 23:26:00


but presumable they all have maths GCSE/o level I think maths can be forgotton, but we use English constantly.

FluffyBunnyGoneBad Wed 01-Jul-09 23:29:12

Hi clary, I found the coffee thread! blush

I think it's easier for people to admit to being poor at maths, english is used all the time so it's harder to admit to needing support/having a problem. It's assumed that people can read, even in the hospitals, everything is written.

LynetteScavo Wed 01-Jul-09 23:33:49

i openly admit to be poor at typing/ spelling - but then I can hide it!

GrimmaTheNome Wed 01-Jul-09 23:34:22

Not necessarily, Lynnette. I had a friend doing a law degree - very articulate, I suppose highly intelligent in other respects, who'd failed O level maths. Not sure she'd even managed a tolerable CSE.

Mathematical illiteracy is a real problem - I don't mean not being able to do mental arithmetic, but failure to comprehend statistics and probabilities.

LynetteScavo Wed 01-Jul-09 23:35:24

I meant can't!

GrimmaTheNome Wed 01-Jul-09 23:38:33


Clary Wed 01-Jul-09 23:43:20

That's the thing - they may well be hopeless at maths but don't seem to think that matters.

I'm thinking they are all OK at english as they do it for a living - but surely maths is basic too.

DH once wrote down a method for doing a percentage (as in - if crime figures have gone up from 2,456 to 2873, what percentage rise is that?) for a colleague and it was copied in awe by about half a dozen people and pinned up on noticeboards as if it was the Law and the Prophets or whatever that phrase is.

Mind you I explained the difference between an adjective and an adverb the other day and got a similar response <sigh>

Fluffy will go back to thread - where was it??

Portofino Wed 01-Jul-09 23:44:16

I have a high IQ - 152 - but i have trouble with maths! I got a B at O'level and have studied statistics as a grown up. I STILL don't get Probability - it melts my brain. I did understand standard deviation when it was explained to me. But now i have forgotten.

I have to work oout lots of percentages for work, and i still find it hard. I KNOW that I am not dim but I am definitely not Maths minded.

Clary Wed 01-Jul-09 23:46:11

nooooo I'm not talking about standard deviation (what is that anyway?)

Just regular old fractions and percentages etc.

Portofino Thu 02-Jul-09 08:35:01

here are some good explanations.....

ABetaDad Thu 02-Jul-09 08:45:25

Clary - it has always struck me as odd as well.

Some year sago I used to teach business people basic business matematics. These were high flyers in international business, people who were destined for the top mnagement positions. Many were quite willing to admit being useless at maths. In fact half my job was getting them over their irrational fear of doing simple things like a percentage. Show them a graph and ask them to interpret it and they almost fainted.

cory Thu 02-Jul-09 09:43:21

not only maths - in this country it is almost a matter of pride to be able to say I am rubbish at foreign languages too

even for academics who surely must realise that their inability to read what is published in their field in other countries is a bit of a drawback

MinaLoy Thu 02-Jul-09 09:48:03

I used to "boast" that I was crap at maths, until I had I see that it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy, and I bravely pretend to know what's what.

Do you think the problem might be that maths is harder to teach well? I think I was turned "off" at school. But I feel it as a lack.

Bucharest Thu 02-Jul-09 09:53:14

IMO it's not acceptable to say you are rubbish in English (language) because you are confessing to being inadequate at communicating in your native language. It's a skill that should, really, be acquired from birth, simply be listening, speaking, reading, and generally participating in your community life.

Maths and foreign languages (like, for example, hairdressing or car mechanics) on the other hand are subjects which usually have to be formally taught to you by someone else. They are not, generally speaking, things which you can acquire with little or no effort, unlike the ability to use your own language.

TrillianAstrahasaJOB Thu 02-Jul-09 10:03:17

Because Maths is geeky/nerdy/swotty. English is arty/creative/cool.

ingles2 Thu 02-Jul-09 10:05:56

I think many more people suffer from dyscalculia than is widely recognised. Research into dyscalculia is very recent, whereas people struggling with dyslexia are universally acknowledged now.
My youngest has dyscalculia, he little cannot grasp the basics and hold them for any period of time. He obviously can't see any pattern. He may seem to understand something, but go back to it a month later and you have to start all over again. Luckily he has a good memory, so if I teach him maths by rote he can remember the facts, but then can't apply them because he just doesn't understand or "see" the concept.... for example he knows his 5 times table of by heart, but then just does not get that is the same as counting in 5's.

edam Thu 02-Jul-09 10:07:32

Lots of people happily admit to being rubbish at spelling and grammar. See endless MN threads on this!

But I agree, if you know you struggle with everyday maths, or spelling, or something that you can learn if you could be bothered, why not do something about it?

edam Thu 02-Jul-09 10:10:41

Actually you have a point there, Ingles. Only the dyslexics I know try to deal with it - most have strategies for checking spelling or remembering tricky words. Wish we had got to the state with dyscalculia where there were similar ideas available, that could be passed on.

Friend of mine's daughter has dyscalculia, properly diagnosed, but her teachers refuse to believe it and just treat her as 'thick' even though she does very well in subjects where maths doesn't affect her grades.

2kidzandi Thu 02-Jul-09 10:10:56

I was brought up in the late 70s and early 80s and I recall Maths lessons with horror. There always seemed to be this assumption that if something was explained or done on the board you should just 'get it' because it was logical. But it was rarely logical for me. I never felt I could ask why does such and such formula have to be used, and always felt stupid for asking or disrupting the pace of the lesson. I actually used to feel sick before lessons began, and started to believe I was just thick.

Another thing with maths is that (in my view) it doesn't seem to harness creativity, it concerns remembering set ways of working through equations and formulas to achieve a determined answer. But I was good at English because, once I knew the rules, I found I could manipulate them creatively.

The good thing is that because of my experience I take great care to ensure my children have a different reationship with maths and strive to use different curriculums and approaches to it, since I educate them at home. (That means I can never say out loud that I dislike it and strive to be maths positivesmile) Also I have tried Vedic Maths which is Hindu in origin, and found it easier in many ways.

I used to hate admitting I found maths difficult but don't anymore, because I know there must be a reason why so may otherwise intelligent people struggle with it. Then again maybe I just need more toes and fingers...grin

ABetaDad Thu 02-Jul-09 10:12:45

My very very guilty secret about maths is I failed O'level Advanced Matematics and just got a very average B Grade in Ordinary O'level matematics. I struggled with some parts of maths like Calculus and yet I then went on to teach it at Postgraduate level.

I think my own 'relative struggle' with maths helped me a lot in understanding why others find it so hard and made me a better teacher. Yes, I do think, the 'I was turned off maths at school' is true for a lot of people. Often, I think people who are good at maths who become maths teachers do not 'get' why other people struggle with it.

My own experience of teaching was first of all to empathise with those people who did not 'get' maths and then communicate in a way that took the fear out of it.

edam Thu 02-Jul-09 10:13:26

Maths is creative/can be creative but I think the way it was taught at school back in my day hid that fact from you until you got to A-level - by which time most people had given up.

Judging by ds's school (so far, he's only in Yr 1) things have really improved - they are positively encouraged to explore lots of different methods and apply maths, rather than just copying out lots of sums.

edam Thu 02-Jul-09 10:15:45

Oi, abetadad, I got a B in O-level, is you calling me fick? grin

Never been sure whether I truly deserve it, someone set the fire alarm off during the exam and I think all our papers were treated sympathetically as a result - but I'd already finished! Girl who set the fire alarm off was expelled.

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